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An Insider's View of Harvard University

By Jiachen Sun


    This summer, I had the exciting opportunity to participate in the two-week Pre-College Program at Harvard University. The program is most definitely not a normal summer camp that can merely be skipped through; it requires motivation to learn in a rigorous program, even during summer vacation. During each of the three sessions, over 500 students from all over the United States and more than 70 countries arrived at Harvard for the Pre-College Program. During my time there, I had the opportunity to participate in an academic class of my choosing, along with extracurricular activities of all types. Of course, I also got the invaluable experience of campus life at Harvard University.


    The academic courses of the Pre-College Program are essentially a college-level semester’s worth of work squeezed into two weeks. So, I got my first taste of college-level workloads. The course that I took was The Culture of Medicine. Despite the word “medicine” in the course name, this was not a science class about the knowledge of biology necessary for practicing medicine. It is an anthropology class about the culture of the medical world, mainly focusing on the communications between patient and doctor. As I learned, being a doctor is not merely about the level of medical skillfulness to help a patient recover. Most of being a doctor is forming a proper doctor-patient relationship.

   One of the main questions that we explored throughout the course was: Is it better to have a very skilled doctor that is cold and detached with the patient, or a doctor that is warm and amicable with patients but perhaps not as skilled? Similarly, we also explored how much a doctor should be attached to patients, from the doctor’s point of view. Is it bad if the doctor is attached to much? Overall, the course greatly opened my eyes to the world of medicine, and added a lot of dimensions and layers to consider that I did not think existed before. I could not have learned all of this in a class in high school. Through becoming educated on the stereotypes that some groups of people face, which causes them to be unable to receive the best treatment possible, I realized that despite how far medicine has come throughout the years, there is still so much more that needs to change. If I were to practice medicine, I now know that there would be a daunted yet rewarding road ahead of me.

   One of the (many) perks of being at Harvard is the plethora of opportunities to learn that we were surrounded with. In addition to our academic course, we could also choose to participate in several extracurricular workshops. I attended two lectures that were very interesting and certainly one-of-a-kind. One was given by a graduate of MIT, discussing technology and its effect on our lives and future jobs. Fun fact: Did you know that there actually are not any cars where the Uber homepage icons indicate there are? It’s all made up! Another cool experience that I had was visiting the bird collection at the Harvard Natural History Museum—the largest collection in the world. While my lecture was on the evolution of large flightless birds, such as ostriches and penguins, I also got to see the smallest species of hummingbird in the world! Even cooler: Did you know that there is a type of eagle that can devour monkeys in a gulp? Yup, they’ve got one of those too! Being surrounded by a flurry of fascinating activity, I finally understood the reason (or one of them) for Harvard’s prestige. There is so much to learn and explore, and so many activities, even just on campus. While I am there, I am surrounded by great minds.


    Harvard’s location provides for an extremely vibrant campus life. On top of all of the academics, being able to live in one of Harvard’s on-campus dorms was definitely one of my favorite parts of the program. I had access to most of the other buildings as well, from museums (I loved the Natural History Museum, for example!) to academic lecture halls. My two favorite buildings though, were both in or near Harvard Yard. One was the Widener Library, for its history. The Library was named after Harry Elkins Widener after his death while aboard the Titanic, when his mother donated money towards the expansion of the library. Instead of expanding outward, though, the library was expanded many floors downward. People say there there are tens of miles of book shelving down there! My other favorite building was the Science Center, especially its comfortable study area. There are couches for relaxing, and conference rooms for group projects! With a cafe built inside, the Science Center was the perfect place to spend the day, working or hanging out! One thing that I did notice, though, especially near Harvard Yard, was the amount of tour groups roaming about. Being an open campus and summer vacation, this can be partially forgiven, but I personally hope that tourists could be reminded to be a little more mindful of maintaining a quiet learning environment while they are there. With the negatives addressed, here are the positives of the open campus! Since Harvard is located in the heart of Cambridge, there is easy access to a variety of shops and restaurants, as well as public transportation such as the bus and the metro, so that life never gets boring there. The Pre-College program arranged for us to go on trips near Harvard, too. I went to see a play called Shear Madness, where a murder mystery is solved. The hilarious comedy is packed to the brim with up-to-date jokes with subjects from Trump to tide pods. The answer to the mystery is different for every show, and even the audience is able to participate and shout out their opinions. I also got to visit the MIT Museum, also in Cambridge. There were sketches of the brain, and also some cool (but useless) inventions!


    I really loved my first experience at an university summer program, and I feel like I learned so much that I otherwise never would have ever known! This is definitely something that I would recommend to other high school students. :)

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